Sunday, 15 May 2011

A look into my process...

Some people have contacted me recently asking how I make all my artwork. I tell them to burn in hell.

However, during my latest MAB image, I recorded the process for you all. All of my knowledge is self taught- I hope you find some of it useful!

What attracted me to the wolf attack concept was the fact that a friend admitted it was his worst fear after looking through my site. The more I thought about it, the more it made me smile. Being attacked by wolves would, indeed, be a horrible way to die.
Then I was thinking about the colour. Most of my past images have been very bold in colour. Putting the scene in the snow would mean that the colours would be limited. This would therefore set this piece apart from the rest.

Also the composition- I haven’t done a piece yet from above, looking down. This was the perfect opportunity to do so. I was thinking that the wolves would have already grounded their kill, and were fanned around him, digging their snouts in.

First comes the sketching. My favourite material to sketch ideas on is with a crap biro and lined paper. If I work on good quality paper, there is a pressure to draw something of great quality, which hinders working out overall form. With crap paper, I immediately draw incredibly loose.

Once I come up with a concept, I then put a grid on the page, breaking the page up into thirds. This gives better composition to the piece, showing me where to point the points of interest.

(I’m afraid that I lost the rough sketch, but all will become clear with the first image).

I always try to tell a story in each image. This means figuring out the type of person being attacked – what they look like, what they’re wearing, the environment they are in and what they may have been doing just before the attack. The animal attacking them is usually random, though sometimes I put the subject in a stereotypical situation where you may find the animal/s involved.

I draw it again in Photoshop with a Wacom Intuos tablet, and work on the details. Photoshop is better for editing a rough sketch – especially during the early phases when I am constantly changing things. This is the part of the project that takes the longest- there isn’t any point inking and colouring a weak image, or something that I am not happy with.

Composition, and line of action is always something I look out for. In my early pieces, I didn’t take into consideration about any of this stuff simply because I didn’t know about it (and I feel it shows- the images seem basic, even though there’s gore!). I put the subject in the top left corner because I wanted to show where he was dragged from (bottom right). The blood trail helps point that out.

 Here, I was refining the rough sketch, and also playing around with different poses for the wolf pup.

Another important feature that I work on is the face, and facial expression, of the person being attacked. I figured the face would be that of my mate who is terrified of wolves, so that kinda made it easy. The facial expression is also dependant on the type of person that I want to be attacked. In this case, the person being attacked is valiantly shooting up a flare rather than being weak and given up. I thought I would put an angry face on him as if to say, “come on then! EAT ME!” However I still wanted a shred of self-preservation in him (as he is shooting up the flare), so I made him look up at the flare, as if to make sure it set off. Yet still wincing in pain.

By the way, I LOVE the "horror"face at the bottom. I didn't use it because I didn't think it would fit with the piece, plus I decided to save it for another MAB piece which I have in mind.

Leading the eye around the image is also something I bear in mind. It’s a useful tool for guiding the viewer around to see all the gory details. This can be done using features in the image.

Looking back at it, I probably should have put something in the bottom left corner to help draw the eye into the main action. This could have been something like a shadowed ridge in the snow. It could have even been an organ tossed aside with a blood trail, or his hiking pole (see pink arrows).

Once the sketch work is finished, it’s time to do the outlines. I use Illustrator to ink up the sketch, with custom brushes that change thickness with pressure. This is quite a relaxing process, though it can take a while. I always do the lines in a dark colour, but not black. This way, the hue of the outline can be changed easily, depending on the colour scheme I end up going with.

This is the time to watch out for tangents and parallels of lines. You want the image to speak clearly, meaning all lines have their own path (without crossing over like spaghetti). It makes the image much less confusing, especially when a viewer is looking at details.

Once I am happy with the line work in Illustrator, I move it into Photoshop. I used to open up the jpeg of the vector work in Photoshop and then set it as a Multiply layer. For some reason though, if you change the colour of the outline to a lighter colour, it would end up going slightly transparent, meaning it wasn’t as bold. This also means that you can see the colour boundaries underneath it as I colour it in. I find the best way to transfer it over is to open up the Illustrator file in Photoshop. Photoshop will rasterize the line work with a transparent background, so you can paint directly underneath it. I simply select all of it, and copy and paste the outline into a new layer. PERFECT!

After looking at my trusty colour wheel, I start to think of a colour scheme. It is getting quite difficult being imaginative with colour when the colour that is always used in abundance is red. I wanted to be minimal with colours. I used pink and purple with the red, as they sit very close to red in the colour wheel.

Check out Pascal Campion’s blog for inspiration on colour. This guy sure knows how to use colour to its fullest (info at the bottom of the post).

I don’t usually bother with doing a colour script thumbnail image to try out the colour scheme. Photoshop is fantastic for changing things around, so I kinda work on the colour on the fly. I always try to keep in mind what time of day the attack is happening at, which would affect the type of light that would be included.

I add colour on a layer underneath the line work. I slap down blocks of colour, roughly adhering to the scheme that I have chosen. It can always be tweaked later using the wand and changing the hues.

I use a contrasting colour underneath it all so the colour stands out more. Just easier to view where you’re adding colour (especially when you add skin colour which doesn’t contrast much to a white background).

Once all the flat colour has been added, I think about light direction and where to put the shadows. I put the shadows on a layer over the top of the colour. I used to use black and reduce the opacity. This method was really quick. Though after seeing it in print, it simply looks like grey over the original colour, making it look dull. So now I leave the opacity at 100% and use colour.
(It was at this point that I was not happy with the wolf pup. The view looked as if it was side on, which spoiled the plan view that I was going for. I went back to sketching it out again, and drawing the line work again in Illustrator)

Then I start working on the background. These usually start off with blocks of colour, and slowly adding details and textures. Though for this piece, I made a couple of custom brushes in Photoshop, and dotted them around which made a pretty good snow texture. The background is done on layers underneath the main image.

The brush is in black, and the start of the background is the greyish blue behind it.

Then all the background shadows and extra details are added (such as lots of blood), making sure to keep enough space around the main subjects. The background shadows are a dark purple (the darkest colour of the colour scheme) put at about a 75% opacity. Areas of black are usually used for complete darkness. Same with white- only for areas of BRIGHT light. That way, any white that you do use will really stand out.

 Next up are the highlights. Areas of interest (such as the intestines) need higher contrast to make them pop out. This means that I put darker shadows in these areas, and stronger highlights. The highlights are all done in white with the opacity reduced. They are put on a layer on top of the colour, but below the shadows. You don’t want any ambient highlights where the light source cannot reach. Putting the highlights below the shadows means that you can slap down highlights like a mad man and they will never overlap the shadows.

(I hid the blood layer, so I could see what I was doing).

However, big highlights (such as big light reflections off shiny objects to attract attention to a point of interest) are put on a layer above the shadows. This is where I cheat and put highlights in dark areas to make them stand out. If you look at the intestines, the wolf’s head should completely shadow that area, however, I have put lots of light in there (as well as lots of shadows) to make them stand out.

 I also add in some more shadows over the top of the main shadow layer. These are to darken areas under the subjects just so it is easier to distinguish the subjects from each other and against the background.

Now its time to start adding extra details and lighting, such as more blood and objects in the background. This will help bring the piece together, making it look more complete. Lighting from the flare is also added. The flare smoke is put in, then distorted using the Liquify command. This makes it more “smoke-like”.

Once most of the details are added, it’s a case of tweaking areas of light and dark to make sure that the main subjects are not drowned out, and can be seen clearly. Sometimes it seems hard to know when the image is finished, as I can carry on tweaking it for ages until I feel happier with it. Though soon, I just feel enough is enough, and I’m probably making it worse, or over-complicated if I carry on adding details.

I hope this helps!

Here are some of the main ones that I follow which you may find helpful.


Composition (and everything really)

Character Design - - I'd also recommend his Character Design Course on


I have absorbed so much over the years from these very generous artists. These guys are all incredibly helpful. I have emailed most of these people for tips, and have even had feedback on a piece I was working on. They email back instantly with advice. FOR FREE! (So thanks guys).

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